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outwardly gracious and less inwardly benevolent than before; a change
not wholly to be deprecated.

Lucy, with bright eyes, listened, with the air of one who has a right to
be interested, to the words of the marriage service, taking afterwards
her usual share in practical details. She was upheld, no doubt, by the
consciousness of the letter in her pocket; a letter which had come that
very morning; was written on thin paper in a bold hand; and in common
with others from the same source, was bright and kind; tender and
hopeful; and very full of confidential statements as to all that
concerned the writer.

Phyllis, pale but beautiful, alternated between langour and a fitful
sprightliness; her three weeks at Eastbourne seemed to have done her
little good; while Gertrude went through her part mechanically, and
remembered remorsefully that she had never been very nice to Fanny.

As for the bride, she was subdued and tearful, as an orthodox bride
should be; and invited all her sisters in turn to come and stay with her
at Notting Hill directly the honeymoon in Switzerland should be over.
Edward Marsh suffered the usual insignificance of bridegrooms; but did
all that was demanded of him with exactness.

In the evening, when that blankness which invariably follows a wedding
had fallen upon the sisters, Mrs. Maryon came up into the sitting-room,
and beguiled them with tales of the various brides she had known; who,
if they had not married in haste, must certainly, to judge by the
sequel, have repented at leisure.

[Illustration: Decoration]


[Illustration: Decoration]




CHAPTER XVII.

A SPECIAL EDITION.

_We bear to think
You're gone, - to feel you may not come, -
To hear the door-latch stir and clink,
Yet no more you!...._
E. B. BROWNING.


It was true enough, no doubt, that Phyllis did not care for Darrell in
Lucy's sense of the word; but at the same time it was sufficiently clear
that he had been the means of injecting a subtle poison into her veins.

Since the night of the _conversazione_ at the Berkeley Galleries, when
he had bidden her farewell, a change, in every respect for the worse,
had crept over her.

The buoyancy, which had been one of her chief charms, had deserted her.
She was languid, restless, bored, and more utterly idle than ever. The
flippancy of her lighter moods shocked even her sisters, who had been
accustomed to allow her great license in the matter of jokes; the
moodiness of her moments of depression distressed them beyond measure.

At Eastbourne she had amused herself with getting up a tremendous
flirtation with Fred, to the Devonshires' annoyance and the satisfaction
of the victim himself, whose present mood it suited and who hoped that
Lucy would hear of it.

After Phyllis's visit to Eastbourne, which had been closely followed by
Fanny's wedding, the household at Upper Baker Street underwent a period
of dulness, which was felt all the more keenly from the cheerful fulness
of the previous summer. Every one was out of town. In early September
even the country cousins have departed, and people have not yet begun to
return to London, where it is perhaps the most desolate period of the
whole year.

Work, of course, was slack, and they had no longer the preparations for
Fanny's wedding to fall back upon.

The air was hot, sunless, misty; like a vapour bath, Phyllis said. Even
Gertrude, inveterate cockney as she was, began to long for the country.
Nothing but a strong sense of loyalty to her sister prevented Lucy from
accepting a cordial invitation from the "old folks." Phyllis openly
proclaimed that she was only awaiting _der erste beste_ to make her
escape for ever from Baker Street.

Phyllis, indeed, was in the worst case of them all; for while Lucy had
the precious letters from Africa to console her, Gertrude had again
taken up her pen, which seemed to move more freely in her hand than it
had ever done before.

So the days went on till it was the middle of September, and life was
beginning to quicken in the great city.

One sultry afternoon, the Lorimers were gathered in the sitting-room;
both windows stood open, admitting the hot, still, autumnal air; every
sound in the street could be distinctly heard.

Lucy sat apart, deep in a voluminous letter on foreign paper which had
come for her that morning, and which she had been too busy to read
before. Phyllis was at the table, yawning over a copy of _The Woodcut_;
which was opened at a page of engravings headed: "The War in Africa;
from sketches by our special artist." Gertrude sewed by the window, too
tired to think or talk. Now and then she glanced across mechanically to
the opposite house, whence in these days of dreariness, no picturesque,
impetuous young man was wont to issue; from whose upper windows no
friendly eyes gazed wistfully across.

The rooms above the auctioneer's had, in fact, a fresh occupant; an
ex-Girtonian without a waist, who taught at the High School for girls
hard-by.

The Lorimers chose to regard her as a usurper; and with the justice
usually attributed to their sex, indulged in much sarcastic comment on
her appearance; on her round shoulders and swinging gait; on the green
gown with balloon sleeves, and the sulphur-coloured handkerchief which
she habitually wore.

Presently Lucy looked up from her letter, folded it, sighed, and smiled.

"What has your special artist to say for himself?" asked Phyllis,
pushing away _The Woodcut_.

"He writes in good spirits, but holds out no prospect of the war coming
to an end. He was just about to go further into the interior, with
General Somerset's division. Mr. Steele of _The Photogravure_, with whom
he seems to have chummed, goes too," answered Lucy, putting the letter
into her pocket.

"Perhaps his sketches will be a little livelier in consequence. They are
very dull this week."

Phyllis rose as she spoke, stretching her arms above her head. "I think
I will go and dine with Fan. She is such fun."

Fanny had returned from Switzerland a day or two before, and was now in
the full tide of bridal complacency. As mistress of a snug and hideous
little house at Notting Hill, and wedded wife of a large and
affectionate man, she was beginning to feel that she had a place in the
world at last.

"I will come up with you," said Lucy to Phyllis, "and brush your hair
before you go."

The two girls went from the room, leaving Gertrude alone. Letting fall
her work into her lap, she leaned in dreamy idleness from the window,
looking out into the street, where the afternoon was deepening apace
into evening. A dun-coloured haze, thin and transparent, hung in the
air, softening the long perspective of the street. School hours were
over, and the Girtonian, her arm swinging like a bell-rope, could be
discerned on her way home, a devoted _cortège_ of school-girls
straggling in her wake. From the corner of the street floated up the
cries of the newspaper boys, mingling with the clatter of omnibus
wheels.

An empty hansom cab crawled slowly by. Gertrude noticed that it had
violet lamps instead of red ones.

A lamplighter was going his rounds, leaving a lengthening line of
orange-coloured lights to mark his track. The recollection of summer,
the presage of winter, were met in the dusky atmosphere.

"How the place echoes," thought Gertrude. It seemed to her that the boys
crying the evening papers were more vociferous than usual; and as the
thought passed through her mind, she was aware of a hateful, familiar
sound - the hoarse shriek of a man proclaiming a "special edition" up the
street.

No amount of familiarity could conquer the instinctive shudder with
which she always listened to these birds of ill-omen, these carrion,
whose hideous task it is to gloat over human calamity. Now, as the sound
grew louder and more distinct, the usual vague and sickening horror
crept over her. She put her hands to her ears. "It is some ridiculous
race, no doubt."

She let in the sound again.

Her fears were unformulated, but she hoped that Lucy upstairs in the
bed-room had not heard.

The cry ceased abruptly; some one was buying a paper; then was taken up
again with increased vociferousness. Gertrude strained her ears to
listen.

"Terrible slaughter, terrible slaughter of British troops!" floated up
in the hideous tones.

She listened, fascinated with a nameless horror.

"A regiment cut to pieces! Death of a general! Special edition!" The
fiend stood under the window, vociferating upwards.

In an instant Gertrude had slipped down the dusky staircase, and was
giving the man sixpence for a halfpenny paper. Standing beneath the
gas-jet in the passage, she opened the sheet and read; then, still
clutching it, sank down white and trembling on the lowest stair.

Noiseless, rapid footfalls came down behind her, some one touched her on
the shoulder, and a strange voice said in her ear, "Give it to me."

She started up, putting the hateful thing behind her.

"No, no, no, Lucy! It is not true."

"Yes, yes, yes! don't be ridiculous, Gerty."

Lucy took the paper in her hands, bore it to the light, and read,
Gertrude hiding her face against the wall.

The paper stated, briefly, that news had arrived at head-quarters of the
almost total destruction of the troops which, under General Somerset,
had set out for the interior of Africa some weeks before. A few
stragglers, chiefly native allies, had reached the coast in safety, and
had reported that the General himself had been among the first to
perish.

Messrs. Steele and Jermyn, special artists of _The Photogravure_ and
_The Woodcut_, respectively, had been among those to join the
expedition. No news of their fate had been ascertained, and there was
reason to fear that they had shared the doom of the others.

"It is not true." Lucy's voice rang hollow and strange. She stood
there, white and rigid, under the gas-jet.

Mrs. Maryon, who had bought a paper on her own account, issued from the
shop-parlour in time to see the poor young lady sway forward into her
sister's arms.

* * * * *

Those were dark days that followed. At first there had been hope; but as
time went on, and further details of the catastrophe came to light,
there was nothing for the most sanguine to do but to accept the worst.

Gertrude herself felt that the one pale gleam of uncertainty which yet
remained was, perhaps, the most cruel feature of the case. If only
Lucy's hollow eyes could drop their natural tears above Frank's grave
she might again find peace.

Frank's grave! Gertrude found herself starting back incredulous at the
thought.

Death, as a general statement, is so easy of utterance, of belief; it is
only when we come face to face with it that we find the great mystery so
cruelly hard to realise; for death, like love, is ever old and ever new.

"People always come back in books," Fanny had said, endeavouring, in
all good faith, to administer consolation; and Lucy had actually
laughed.

"Your sister ought to be able to do better for herself," Edward Marsh
said, later on, to his wife.

But Fanny, who had had a genuine liking for kind Frank, disagreed for
once with the marital opinion.

"He was good, and he loved her. She has always that to remember,"
Gertrude thought, as she watched Lucy going about her business with a
calmness that alarmed her more than the most violent expressions of
sorrow would have done.

"Dear little Frank! I wonder if he is really dead," Phyllis reflected,
staring with wide eyes at the house opposite, rather as if she expected
to see a ghost issue from the door.

Fortunately for the Lorimers they had little time for brooding over
their troubles. Their success had proved itself no ephemeral one. As
people returned to town, work began to flow in upon them from all sides,
and their hands were full. Labour and sorrow, the common human portion,
were theirs, and they accepted them with courage, if not, indeed, with
resignation. September and October glided by, and now the winter was
upon them.

[Illustration: Decoration]


[Illustration: Decoration]




CHAPTER XVIII.

PHYLLIS.

_Die æltre Tochter gæhnet
"Ich will nicht verhungern bei euch,
Ich gehe morgen zum Grafen,
Und der ist verliebt und reich."_
HEINE.


"Lucy, dear, you must go."

"But, Gerty, you can never manage to get through the work alone."

"I will make Phyllis help me. It will be the best thing for her, and she
works better than any of us when she chooses."

The sisters were standing together in the studio, discussing a letter
which Lucy held in her hand - an appeal from the heartbroken "old folks"
that she, who was to have been their daughter, should visit them in
their sorrow.

"It is simply your duty to go," went on Gertrude, who was consumed with
anxiety concerning her sister; then added, involuntarily, "if you think
you can bear it."

A light came into Lucy's eyes.

"Is there anything that one cannot bear?"

She turned away, and began mechanically fixing a negative into one of
the printing frames. She remembered how, on that last day, Frank had
planned the visit to Cornwall. Was he not going to show her every nook
and corner of the old home, which many a time before he had so minutely
described to her? The place had for long been familiar to her
imagination, and now she was in fact to make acquaintance with it; that
was all. What availed it to dwell on contrasts?

The sisters spoke little of Lucy's approaching journey, which was fixed
for some days after the receipt of the letter; and one cold and foggy
November afternoon found her helping Mrs. Maryon with her little box
down the stairs, while Matilda went for a cab.

At the same moment Gertrude issued from the studio with her outdoor
clothes on.

"No one is likely to come in this Egyptian darkness," she said; "it is
four o'clock already, and I am going to take you to Paddington."

"That will be delightful, if you think you may risk it," answered Lucy,
who looked very pale in her black clothes.

"I have left a message with Mrs. Maryon to be delivered in the
improbable event of 'three customers coming in,' as they did in _John
Gilpin_," said Gertrude, with a feeble attempt at sprightliness.

Matilda appeared at this point to announce that the cab was at the door.

"Where is Phyllis?" cried Lucy. "I have not said good-bye to her."

"She went out two hours ago, miss," put in Mrs. Maryon, in her sad
voice.

"No doubt," said Gertrude, "she has gone to Conny's. I think she goes
there a great deal in these days."

Mrs. Maryon looked up quickly, then set about helping Matilda hoist the
box on to the cab.

"How bitterly cold it is," cried Gertrude, with a shudder, as they
crossed the threshold.

An orange-coloured fog hung in the air, congealed by the sudden change
of temperature into a thick and palpable mass.

"I shouldn't be surprised if we had snow," observed Mrs. Maryon, shaking
her head.

"Oh, how could Phyllis be so wicked as to go out?" cried Gertrude, as
the cab drove off: "and her cough has been so troublesome lately."

"I think she has been looking more like her old self the last week or
two," said Lucy; then added, "Do you know that Mr. Darrell is back? I
forgot to tell you that I met him in Regent's Park the other day."

"I hope he will not wish to renew the sittings; but no doubt he has
found some fresh whim by this time. I wish he had let Phyllis alone; he
did her no good."

"Poor little soul, I am afraid she finds it dismal," said Lucy.

"I mean to plan a little dissipation for us both when you are away - the
theatre, probably," said Gertrude, who felt remorsefully that in her
anxiety concerning Lucy she had rather neglected Phyllis.

"Yes, do, and take care of yourself, dear old Gerty," said Lucy, as the
cab drew up at Paddington station.

The sisters embraced long and silently, and in a few minutes Lucy was
steaming westward in a third-class carriage, and Gertrude was making her
way through the fog to Praed Street station. At Baker Street she
perceived that Mrs. Maryon's prophecy was undergoing fulfilment; the fog
had lifted a little, and flakes of snow were falling at slow intervals.

Before the door of Number 20B a small brougham was standing - a brougham,
as she observed by the light of the street lamp, with a coronet
emblazoned on the panels.

"Lord Watergate is in the studio, miss," announced Mrs. Maryon, who
opened the door; "he only came a minute ago, and preferred to wait. I
have lit the lamp." As Gertrude was going towards the studio the woman
ran up to her, and put a note in her hand. "I forgot to give you this,"
she said. "I found it in the letter-box a minute after you left."

Gertrude, glancing hastily at the envelope, recognised, with some
surprise, the childish handwriting of her sister Phyllis, and concluded
that she had decided to remain overnight at the Devonshires.

"She might have remembered that I was alone," she thought, a little
wistfully as she opened the door of the waiting-room.

Lord Watergate advanced to meet her, and they shook hands gravely. She
had not seen him since the night of the _conversazione_ at the Berkeley
Galleries. His ample presence seemed to fill the little room.

"It is a shame," he said, "to come down upon you at this time of night."

She laid Phyllis's note on the table, and turned to him with a smile of
deprecation.

"Won't you read your letter before we embark on the question of slides?"

"Thank you. I will just open it."

She broke the seal, advanced to the lamp, and cast her eye hastily over
the letter. But something in the contents seemed to rivet her attention,
to merit more than a casual glance. For some moments she stood absorbed
in the carelessly-written sheet; then, suddenly, an exclamation of
sorrow and astonishment burst from her lips.

Lord Watergate advanced towards her.

"Miss Lorimer, you are in some trouble. Can I help you, or shall I go
away?"

She looked up, half-bewildered, into the strong and gentle face. Then
realising nothing, save that here was a friendly human presence, put the
letter into his hand.

This is what he read.


"MY DEAR GERTY, - This is to tell you that I am not coming home
to-night - am not coming home again at all, in fact. I am going to
marry Mr. Darrell, who will take me to Italy, where the weather is
decent, and where I shall get well. For you know, I am horribly
seedy, Gerty, and very dull.

"Of course you will be angry with me; you never liked Sidney, and
you will think it ungrateful of me, perhaps, to go off like this.
But oh, Gerty, it has been so dismal, especially since we heard
about poor little Frank. Sidney hates a fuss, and so do I. We both
of us prefer to go off on the Q.T., as Fred says. With love from

"PHYLLIS."


As Lord Watergate finished this characteristic epistle, an exclamation
more fraught with horror than Gertrude's own burst from his lips. He
strode across the room, crushing the paper in his hands.

"Lord Watergate!" Gertrude faced him, pale, questioning: a nameless
dread clutched at her.

Something in her face struck him. Stopping short in front of her, in
tones half paralysed with horror, he said -

"Don't you know?"

"Do I know?" she echoed his words, bewildered.

"Darrell is married. He does not live with his wife; but it is no
secret."

The red tables and chairs, the lamp, Lord Watergate himself, whose voice
sounded fierce and angry, were whirling round Gertrude in hopeless
confusion; and then suddenly she remembered that this was an old story;
that she had known it always, from the first moment when she had looked
upon Darrell's face.

Gertrude closed her eyes, but she did not faint. She remained standing,
while one hand rested on the table for support. Yes, she had known it;
had stood by powerless, paralysed, while this thing approached; had
seen it even as Cassandra saw from afar the horror which she had been
unable to avert.

Opening her eyes, she met the gaze, grieved, pitiful, indignant, of her
companion.

"What is to be done?"

Her lips framed the words with difficulty.

A pause; then he said -

"I cannot hold out much hope. But will you come with me to - to - his
house and make inquiries?"

She bowed her head, and gathering herself together, led the way from the
room.

The snow was falling thick and fast as they emerged from the house, and
Lord Watergate handed her into his brougham. It had grown very dark, and
the wind had risen.

"The Sycamores," said Lord Watergate to his coachman, as he took his
seat by Gertrude, and drew the fur about her knees.

Mrs. Maryon, watching from the shop window, shrugged her shoulders.

"Who would have thought it? But you never can tell. And that Phyllis!
It's twice I've seen her with the fair-haired gentleman, with his beard
cut like a foreigner's. It's what you'd expect from her, poor
creature - but Gertrude!"

"They have got the rooms on lease," grumbled Mr. Maryon, from among his
pestles and mortars.

[Illustration: Decoration]


[Illustration: Decoration]




CHAPTER XIX.

THE SYCAMORES.

_How the world is made for each of us!
How all we perceive and know in it
Tends to some moment's product thus,
When a soul declares itself - to wit,
By its fruit the thing it does!_
ROBERT BROWNING.


The carriage rolled on its way through the snow to St. John's Wood,
while its two occupants sat side by side in silence. Now that they had
set out, each felt the hopelessness of the errand on which they were
bound, to which only that first stifling moment of horror, that absolute
need of action, had prompted them.

The brougham stopped in the road before the gate of The Sycamores.

"We had better walk up the drive," said Lord Watergate, and opened the
carriage door.

By this time the snow lay deep on the road and the roofs of the houses;
the trees looked mere blotches of greyish-white, seen through the rapid
whirl of falling flakes, which it made one giddy to contemplate.

"A terrible night for a journey," thought Lord Watergate, as he opened
the big gate; but he said nothing, fearing to arouse false hopes in the
breast of his companion.

They wound together up the drive, the dark mass of the house partly
hidden by the curving, laurel-lined path, and further obscured by the
veil of falling snow.

Then, suddenly, something pierced through Gertrude's numbness; she
stopped short.

"Look!" she cried, beneath her breath.

They were now in full sight of the house. The upper windows were dark;
the huge windows of the studio were shuttered close, but through the
chinks were visible lines and points of mellow light.

Lord Watergate laid his hand on her arm. He thought: "That is just like
Darrell, to have doubled back. But even then we may be too late."

He said: "Miss Lorimer, if they are there, what are you going to do?"

"I am going to tell my sister that she has been deceived, and to bring
her home with me."

Gertrude spoke very low, but without hesitation. Somewhere, in the
background of her being, sorrow, and shame, and anger were lurking; at
present she was keenly conscious of nothing but an irresistible impulse
to action.

"That she has been deceived!" Lord Watergate turned away his face. Had
Phyllis, indeed, been deceived, and was it not a fool's errand on which
they were bent?

They mounted the steps, and he rang the bell; then, by the light of the
hanging lamp, while the snow swirled round and fell upon them both, he
looked into her white, tense face.

"Do not hope for anything. It is most probable that they are not there."

A long, breathless moment, then the door was thrown open, revealing the
solemn manservant standing out against the lighted vestibule.

"I wish to see Mr. Darrell," said Lord Watergate, shortly.

"He's not at home, your lordship."

Gertrude pressed her hand to her heart.

"He is at home to me, as you perfectly well know."

"He has gone abroad, your lordship."

Gertrude swayed forward a little, steadying herself against the lintel,
where she stood in darkness behind Lord Watergate.

"There are lights in the studio, and you must let me in," said Lord
Watergate, sternly.

The man's face betrayed him.

"I shall lose my place, my lord."

"I am sorry for you, Shaw. You had better make off, and leave the
responsibility with me."

The man wavered, took the coin from Lord Watergate's hand, then,


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